Sgt. Eric Williams was a combat flight medic, a son, a husband and a blogger. He was on his way home last week from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan when his forward operating base came under enemy fire. Just days away from reuniting with his family, he was killed.
The story itself is tragic, especially knowing how close this soldier was to coming home. But what is almost as tragic is his chilling final blog post, entitled “Coming Home.” Published less than a week before he was killed, it describes not only his own ambivalence towards returning home, but also the rest of the country’s ambivalence towards him and his fellow combat veterans.
“Veterans of these wars are living at an all-time high of homelessness and joblessness. You can’t throw a rock in this country without hitting dozens of heavily medicated veterans. But the general public cares less and less about them and us. For the general public, unless you have something personally invested in these wars they just want to get along with their day. Without having to be reminded of what these men and women endure on a daily basis. Its unfathomable to them. Thus the widening gap grows.”
The post made me wonder how many other servicemembers feel this way. How many other combat veterans are coming home from war echoing Williams’ sentiments and questioning what kind of world they are returning to? And how is this sense of the widening gap between servicemembers and civilians affecting the morale of our troops?
Williams admitted he was angry and disillusioned. Here was a man about to come home, a soldier preparing himself for the process of reintegration with his family, while at the same time trying to reconcile his feelings about all he had experienced during his deployment. As if those stresses weren’t challenging enough, he had the added stress of anticipating the feeling of being lost in a world he no longer understood.
It’s disheartening to think that our troops are shouldering such a burden on top of everything else they have to cope with. And it saddens me to think that Eric Williams died believing the general public doesn’t support our servicemembers, that civilians are being trite and cliché and fake when they thank veterans for their service, and that “the general American public couldn’t give a s—” about him and his comrades.
If only he could read the beautiful comments that his blog post inspired. The friends and strangers offering condolences to his family, the co-workers lauding his accomplishments and leadership, and the civilians who, thanks to his words, now “see American servicemen and women on a whole new level with a whole new profound appreciation.” I think he’d be proud to know that, in some small way, he helped to make that gap between servicemembers and civilians a little bit smaller.
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Do you think it’s possible to close that gap (or at least make it smaller)?